Breece Hall, Alijah Vera-Tucker, NY Jets, PFF, Stats, Analytics, Walder
Breece Hall, Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets, Getty Images

Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker are proving why it’s foolish to marry the analytics

Stats, analytics, numbers – call them whatever you want. When it comes to their presence in the game of football, I love them as much as anybody. If you’ve read any of my articles or followed me on Twitter, you know I’m an analytical geek who shares data like there’s no tomorrow.

But when you really love something (or someone), you don’t just ignore its flaws and pretend it cannot be improved. You treat it with honesty because you want it to be the best it can possibly be.

That is why I am more than happy to admit the reality: Football analytics are not perfect. Nowhere remotely close. They have a long way to go before they can truly begin accomplishing the goals they set out to accomplish.

At the moment, most analytical tools in football are highly flawed.

For this reason, it’s foolhardy to treat analytics as gospel. In their current state, they cannot replace the good old-fashioned eye test. Watching the film remains the best way to understand football. Analytics are a complement to the film; a tool that can help contextualize and communicate what is seen on tape. This is why I spend just as much time watching film as I do looking at numbers.

That’s not to say there is no place for analytics in the football world. Of course they can be useful. In my articles and tweets, I try my hardest to showcase the best that analytics have to offer; to use them in the truest, most informative, and most accurate way possible.

Analytics provide useful information that can help everyone. They can help fans weed out the noise and gain a better understanding of what is really happening on the field. They can help coaches make better decisions on gameday. They can help front offices make better roster construction decisions.

Each year, football analytics become more prevalent. While that should be a great thing, it comes with an increasingly problematic consequence: As its prevalence grows, so does its misusage.

That’s the big issue: So many people are not using these tools correctly. They’re abusing them, stretching them well beyond their intended purposes.

And the root of that issue is this: The discourse around football analytics is unhealthy right now.

The football community is becoming increasingly peppered with analytics-centric personalities. While they are bringing more attention to the sport’s analytical side, many of these personalities are not doing it in the correct way.

Their fatal flaw: Failing to recognize the imperfection of football analytics.

That brings us to two of the New York Jets’ brightest young stars: Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker.

As most Jets fans on Twitter are well-aware, the selections of Hall and Vera-Tucker were lambasted by a few particular analytics-minded people on that social platform.

Most people outside of the analytics community saw no issue with the Jets’ logic behind those selections. But the “nerds” (as analytics critics like to call them) screamed from the high heavens that their beloved spreadsheets and numbers deemed the selections of Hall and Vera-Tucker to be incredibly foolish.

Let’s start with Hall. The most vocal critic of the Hall pick was an analyst (if you want to call him that) from Pro Football Focus. Warning: the clip below contains some NSFW language and a lot of irritating blathering.

People like this are doing a major disservice to PFF and the analytics community as a whole. Even if there is legitimate evidence that suggests trading up for Hall was not the greatest move, this guy’s over-the-top, exaggerated, made-for-reactions rant is not going to convince anybody in the world that his case should be believed.

Nobody is going to take your side when you talk like this. Unfortunately, the analytics community features too many engagement-baiters who “analyze” the game in this style.

This guy got on camera and claimed the Jets should have taken Malik Willis – a quarterback – in the second round after drafting a quarterback with the second overall pick last year.

Good luck convincing people to take your side with that argument. I mean… wow. I’m actually impressed at how bad of a take that is. It’s a strong candidate for the worst sports take of 2022.

Another guy in the background claims the Jets used a “premium” pick on a running back in 2021, even though that pick (Michael Carter) was made in the fourth round.


It’s truly a shame that the football analytics world is being represented by such poor analysis.

If this guy presented his case in a calmer and more intelligent fashion, some people might take his argument seriously. Instead, he comes across as clueless. This is why so many people write off analytics – because guys like this are the face of them.

The football analytics community needs better representation. Engagement-baiting is killing its credibility.

The second problem with this guy’s stance is the thing we brought up earlier: a failure to recognize the imperfection of analytics.

The most extreme members of the analytics community are passionately anti-running back, such as the guys in the clip above (hence the background guy thinking a fourth-round pick is “premium” for a RB). They believe running backs add little value on their own and are a product of their surroundings, making them easily replaceable.

There’s some credence to that logic. On average, a running back is probably slightly less valuable than an equally-ranked player at another position.

But you can’t just rely on the analytics-based logic for every single decision you make. Context is crucial. Sometimes, common logic makes it clear that it’s fine to bypass the choice that might be considered slightly better by your “model” or whatever it may be.

It was obvious why Hall was a reasonable pick for New York. They had a young franchise quarterback in need of as many weapons as possible. Hall was considered the best running back in the draft by a wide margin. He can impact both the run game and the pass game, and has a profile that compares to some of the best running back prospects in history. Plus, he had already fallen past the first-round wage scale and could be acquired affordably.

But since this guy’s spreadsheet says it was dumb to take Hall, I guess it’s dumb! Because the data has never steered anyone in the wrong direction before.

Five games into his career, Hall is already making the data lovers eat their words. Hall is ranked sixth among all running backs with 488 scrimmage yards and just carried the Jets offense to a 40-17 victory with 197 scrimmage yards, representing 61% of the Jets’ total offense in the game.

To further spit in the nerds’ faces, Hall is producing so much of this production on his own. He’s gained 69% of his rushing yards after contact (191 of 275) and is tied for sixth among running backs with five missed tackles forced after the catch.

Boy, I’m sure Jets fans wish they took Malik Willis!

Next up in the nerd-silencing is Alijah Vera-Tucker.

ESPN’s Seth Walder labeled the Jets’ trade-up for Vera-Tucker as the “worst trade of the draft” before AVT ever played a down for New York. His logic? Trading up for a guard isn’t smart.

There’s a lot to get into here. To start, we’ll touch on is an overreliance on the draft trade chart.

It shouldn’t have to be explained, but the draft trade chart is a guide, not an instruction booklet. It’s fine to bypass that if the situation calls for it!

First off, the Jets barely lost any value in the trade-up for Vera-Tucker. They traded Nos. 23, 66, and 86 for Nos. 14 and 143. According to the classic Jimmy Johnson draft trade chart, the Jets traded 1,180 points’ worth of picks to Minnesota and received 1,134.5 points’ worth of picks. That’s a difference of 45.5 points, which is about equal to the 126th overall pick.

Darn you, Joe Douglas! How dare you give up the equivalent of the 126th overall pick to go get an elite prospect that you love!

The next flaw in this argument is the idea that a guard isn’t valuable. I’m sorry, did you watch the late-2010s Jets? A bad guard can kill a team’s chances of winning just as quickly as a bad cornerback or bad wide receiver. And if you watched the late-2000s/early-2010s Jets, you would know a great interior offensive lineman can add just as much value as a great player at any other non-quarterback position.

Claiming a guard isn’t valuable is ridiculous and is something that would never be said by someone who actually watches football be played.

Plus, yet again, we have to bring up the context factor. Not all situations are created equal. The Jets were in a spot where they had a young quarterback coming in and had to support him as best they could. Their offensive line was fairly weak at the time after mostly passing on the offensive line in free agency. Why not trade up to go get a guy who you think will improve the unit that protects your franchise’s most valuable asset?

Yet another flaw in this argument is the lack of understanding that every draft class is created differently. Draft trade charts operate on the assumption that every draft pick in every slot is going to produce the same value in every draft.

But each draft class is different. While the draft trade chart assumes a certain level of drop-off between one pick and another, that drop-off might be smaller or larger in a particular draft class depending on the talent pool that year. You have to operate off your draft board, not an imaginary trade chart that thinks it knows the value of each player but really doesn’t.

In this case, based on how the board was shaking out, Vera-Tucker was the Jets’ last shot at getting a guard who can immediately fill in and help their offensive line. If they stayed put at No. 23, Vera-Tucker would go off the board and the Jets would not be able to select a guard (without severely reaching) until much later on.

Fast forward to Week 5 of Vera-Tucker’s rookie season, and he looks like one of the most valuable offensive players in the league at the moment. Vera-Tucker has started and thrived at four positions (LT, LG, RG, RT). He is an uber-athletic lineman who perfectly fits the Jets’ wide-zone run scheme and has developed into a highly consistent pass protector.

Without Vera-Tucker, the Jets’ heavily-injured offensive line would be a complete mess right now. It’s easy to picture New York having one or even two fewer victories without him, leaving the team in shambles rather than the exciting spot it’s currently in.

What a bad trade!

The funny thing is, it was always known that Vera-Tucker had the potential to play multiple positions in the NFL. He thrived at both guard and tackle at USC. His versatility was part of his appeal in the draft. The Jets knew they might be getting the guy Vera-Tucker has become. But the over-users of analytics had to slap a label on him and call him a nonvaluable asset that the Jets should not have traded up for.

I want football analytics to be better represented, and I’m glad Hall and Vera-Tucker are exposing the flaws in their representation

Football analytics have so much potential. They can help push this sport into a new era: a smarter and more informed one.

Unfortunately, football analytics are being held back by rigid personalities who refuse to acknowledge the imperfection of the medium they rely upon. If more analytics-based personalities would just take a step back and look at the game in a more open-minded way, analytics would be welcomed by so many more people, and they would undergo a healthier progression into the future.

Until that change happens, players like Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker will have to keep proving why it is never smart to base your entire football philosophy around the numbers.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
7 months ago

I have really noticed that since I have been reading your articles and many others on Jetsxfactor that my perspective to the game of football has really opened up. There is so much preparation and planning that goes on before gameday. It constantly changes from day to day and week to week. I find myself looking for key aspects to what is really going on with the organization, the players, the scheme and what the team is trying to accomplish in order to put its best players in position to be successful. Your articles in particular give me more details to look for as the week progresses. Opponents weaknesses, Strengths and overall game plan becomes more clearer to me. I feel like I don’t watch the game as blindly as I used to. I definitely have you guys to thank for that. I also respect the fact that you guys don’t sugar coat things and tell it like it is. I tell you what, I am glad you guys are True Jet fans and take the time to put things in context for people like myself. I know its gotta be some hard work and very time consuming to gather all the information but its greatly appreciated. Thanks.

7 months ago

I wonder if the whole Sabermetrics/Bill James analytics movement from baseball in the 80’s is being over applied to sports like football. To me baseball has fewer moving parts. You can analyze a batter’s ability to hit a curve or how well a catcher throws to second base because there aren’t that many variables. Football is a lot more complicated. How a RB performs is a function of a) play call, b) QB pre snap adjustsments, c) OL execution, d) defense alignment, e) RB skill, f) etc. It just seems like the eye test/tape is a better measuring stick for football. JMO…

7 months ago

Love the article and the perspective, but it’s a particularly bad day to be espousing “analytics”.
I heard Joe Buck and Troy Aikman use the term ad naseum to “explain” the Raider’s decision to go for two pts w/ 4:27 left in the game and timeouts in their possession.
I’ve been watching football (and playing) for most of my life. Please show me the analytics behind this decision. Is there an overwhelming body of evidence of success in these circumstances? I strongly doubt it.
I understand the old axiom of going for two (the win) on the road. However, that axiom was created when a team could lose in OT w/o ever getting a chance to have the ball; it’s much less likely now. And sure, go for two when the home team has little or no time to recapture the lead (as time expires or has expired). There was 4+ mins left!
If the idiot you highlighted in your article is giving analytics a bad name, so are those that use the term as cover for not truly explaining something.

7 months ago

I think it’s safe to assume that our boy, Nania, is an outlier in the analytics community. And make no bones, that is for the good. I’m of the thinking that his being a fan of the NYJ, first and foremost, is part and parcel of what makes him unique. I believe his personal investment in the success of the team suggests that he’s not watching Jets games primarily as a statistician. And that provides him a distinctive and more discerning eye than others in the field as it relates to the analytics of NFL football. As such, I think Michael Nania is on the cusp of being a pioneer in that regard. Combining both a knowledge of the game and an understanding of the applicable statistics should be the next step in the evolution of analytics. Ideally, the eyes and the numbers should inform and affirm each other.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
7 months ago

Zack Wilson QB Michael Carter RB AV Tucker OL Elijiah Moore WR Michael Carter 2 CB

Sauce Guardner CB Gerrett Wilson WR Breece Hall
8 guys starting and making an impact in thier rookie or 2nd year.. and there are 3 or more I could still add.
Yeah! They got it right with Joe Douglass!!